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Plan Browsing Strategies if you want Students to Browse your Class Library

For the past several years I have entirely abandoned the whole class novel in favor of student choice. The awkward part of teaching a whole class novel — the thud midway through the novel when student interest plummets but I have to keep the show running — that has thankfully disappeared from my teaching life. My students are actually reading more and they are happier with their reading.

And yet…

Running an effective pleasure reading program requires much more from the teacher than providing good books and quiet time for students to read. Start with unpacking the idea of “a good book”; in this context the book must be both highly interesting to the student and highly comprehensible. I have never had enough books to fully satisfy these two requirements… for language learners I don’t think there are enough books out there to satisfy these two requirements. That is why I am leading the charge to get more teachers to write novels with their classes. But even if I did have “enough” books, I would still need to understand my students well-enough to be able to recommend the right book to the right student. I have close to forty students in each class, and I struggle to remember some students’ names well into September. October. Okay, for a select few I am still blanking on a name in January. My point is that “know your students” is another phrase carelessly thrown around by reading gurus that, when unpacked, is easier said than done. I break a sweat trying to connect students with a “good-enough book” from my library.

A pleasure reading program demands endless tinkering, but there are three things you absolutely must pay attention to if you want it to be successful. First of all, the books have to be highly comprehensible. Not kind of comprehensible. Not even pretty much comprehensible. Highly comprehensible. Take a look at my 4 minute video about how to develop a library with class-created texts. Doing this during the last five minutes of class, every day, will lead to hundreds of low-low level readings for second semester. In level one I unveil the pleasure reading library in January (although I have been talking about the books since the beginning of the first semester). Many students may be able to make the leap to professionally published novels, but I still need this basic foundation of a library to serve as a landing mat for the children who tumble off those books and need an extremely, extremely comprehensible read. To be successful, the library must have texts for the lowest level readers.

Second, take a hint from a good librarian and make sure your class library is browsable. Place your easiest novels in a location that is easy to reach for students streaming into the class. I have tables pushed against the walls on three sides of the room with various types of books so that when students do browse, they are not crowded into making a quick choice by the pushing and shoving of their classmates. Try to have as many covers facing up as possible, and occasionally rotate in the books that are stuck on book shelves. Keep collections together by theme, not reading level; I have all of my animal encyclopedias together on the table near the window, all of the manga and graphic novels together on the table against the back wall. Advertise books recently purchased or the subject of book talks by placing them up front with the book that the teacher is reading. Once you get enough, start stapling the class-created texts together in packets of 5-10, provide a book cover and number the collections so students remember which ones they have already read.

Third, expand your repertoire of browsing strategies.

A browsing strategy is any activity that gets your students more familiar with the books in your library. Imagine a class milling about in front of piles of books, perhaps casually gazing at a few book covers while you encourage them the “browse”: that is NOT what I am talking about! Book talks, Readers Theater, and CALP lessons related to a book in your library are much more effective ways to get students interested in what you have to offer. Heck, when a student interview reminds me of a book in my library I take the opportunity to advertise that book. So let’s take a look at some of these browsing strategies.

Book talks: A great way to complete a reading session. Usually after 5 or 10 minutes of silent reading I will ask students to talk about their books in small groups for 60 seconds. They speak in their first language. The idea is to spread knowledge about the books. After a minute they pass their books to the class librarians, who return the books. While the librarians are doing their job, I present a book in very comprehensible Spanish. Either I talk in general terms about what the book is about or I present one vivid scene, but this is often done by memory rather than reading aloud. I will use the whiteboard to illustrate what I am saying. The key is to talk about a book so that any student who is interested can follow up during independent reading sessions.

Reader’s Theater: This technique is often used when teaching a whole class novel, but there is no reason not to use it as a way to advertise a book. It requires a little bit of planning, but it is worth it. Before class I read a scene from a book with potential for a lot of dialogue and a lot of dramatic tension. Then I will rewrite the scene as a dialogue only script. This often involves me adding lines, even adding lines for characters who do not have dialogue in the book in order to flesh out how each character is feeling. I add stage instructions in English to help clarify what I want my actors to do. Print out a copy for each actor. When we start, I set the scene in Spanish, using the board to draw pictures. The fun part of Reader’s Theater, however, is coaching your student-actors to perform the scene in a variety of ways. Ask a character to repeat a line in several different ways. After performing an action, ask students to do it again in slow motion. End by recording the scene on video so that later in the semester you can play it again. Always have a copy of the book front and center so that students associate the book with the theater; the recorded version should present the book as a book commercial. Once again, the purpose of the activity is to give students a taste of the book so that, if interested, they can follow up during independent reading session.

CALP lessons: CALP lessons carefully introduce academic language, but they can be a great hook too. In my opinion some teachers and researchers misunderstand how to apply CALP to second language classrooms. Tina Hargaden’s version of CALP is really just introducing high-interest content to learners, devoid of burdensome follow-up activities. For example, when I preview my novel Superburguesas I use an info-graphic that I found on the internet about how infections are spread when people do not regularly wash their hands. Before class I project the image against a large piece of white butcher paper and I trace it quickly with light pencil. The pleasure is in revealing the drawing using marker in class: while we discuss hand washing in Spanish, I trace over the illustration of the hand. Then I overemphasize the creepiness of the comical illustrations of common pathogens found on unwashed hands, especially noting the ones that cause diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms. Bringing the conversation back to the book, I describe the character who does not wash his hands when he works at a fast-food hamburger restaurant. Slowly revealing the info-graphic while discussing it in easy, comprehensible language adds great dramatic tension to the activity.

Impromptu book advertisements: At the very beginning part of the year when a student interview reveals that someone in my class likes baseball, you had better believe that I will be backing up towards the table with my sports books simply to hold up the books that I have about baseball players. However, impromptu book advertisements are easy to include in your classes in an organic way, as long as you are thinking about the books that you have. Before class stroll around your library and consider the themes so that you connect students with books. A student who expresses that the environment is important to her, or even professes enjoying hiking might like Juliana, a fictional novel about a real cave complex in Spain that houses hundreds of bats. She may not find the novel if you do not point the way. Heritage learners of Spanish often enjoy novels set in the country where there family members are from. A student interested in fashion might enjoy El último viaje by A.C. Quintero. An advanced student who is an avid cyclist will surely enjoy El cóndor de los Andes by Adriana Ramirez. An intermediate student who talks about her sister may not bother to browse your collection of graphic novels, but may be thrilled when you place on the front whiteboard a copy of Hermanas by Raina Telgemeier.

A great time to introduce a new book is when the theme comes up organically, during a student interview.

If you help your students learn to browse your library, they are much more likely to hit upon a book that they really like. That is what will turn them into lifelong readers.

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Let me be your guide as you write & publish a CI novel with your classes

Are you a CI teacher who wants to write a comprehensible novel with your classes? This year-long course (August to March) combines video and monthly, small group google hangout meetings to guide you along a class-tested process to creating compelling, level-appropriate novels. I wrote my novel Superburguesas with my level 1 classes. Imagine creating a novel with true beginners in Autumn and being able to hand each student a finished, published novel by Spring!

My course guides you month by month through the process, from getting your students to supply the first seed of a great idea, working with them in the target language as they acquire language while developing a plot line, rewriting and recognizing themes, through to getting the most compelling illustrations as well as the intricacies of publishing and even marketing your novel. I provide three different approaches to novel writing: one well-suited for middle school students (but still great for high school), one ideal for a teacher who is already comfortable with TPRS-style “storyasking”, and another approach designed to highlight target culture and historical aspects while still encouraging students to take ownership of the narrative.

If you saw my presentation during the Comprehensible Online Conference, then you will have seen the starting point for this course. I propose to walk this path with you, helping to brainstorm and develop your novel throughout the year as I write my own. Each month I will upload a short video delving into detail about the month’s work and demonstrating how I solve the problems that arise in my own work. Then we will schedule small group meetings via Google Hangouts so that you have the opportunity to discuss the progress you are making on your novel each month.

In order to assure my sanity, the monthly google hangout group is only open to the first ten teachers (there are still spaces available). Additional teachers will be able to sign up to watch the monthly videos and follow the process outlined in the hour-long instructional video, but the google hangout sessions will be limited to the original 10. If one of the original 10 drops out, I will offer that space. Please inform me upon signing up if you would rather be a “passive” member of the writers group so that someone else can participate in the google hangout sessions.

Why am I doing this? It is not for the money… the cost to join this group hardly makes a dent in the fees I pay for the various internet services I use to maintain this blog. Since 2015 I have been dedicated to helping teachers become authors because my students need a greater diversity of voices in our classroom library. Not just diversity in terms of race, class, gender or life experience of the author, but also a diversity of genres. We do not have any low-level CI sci-fi books, or horror, or even much in terms of fantasy or historical fiction. Publishers tend to publish books that they believe will appeal broadly, neglecting quirky niche genres. However, it is the quirky niche genres that inspire some students to become strong readers. With this group, I intend to help bring at least 10 quality books to publication by next Spring.

Follow this link to sign up.

With purchase you will receive a download link for a word.doc that contains a link and your password to enter the group homepage. Please log in this summer to watch the hour long video overview of the writing process.

Quotes are from teachers who saw the video presentation at the Comprehensible Online Conference in April, 2018.

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Hey Seattle! July 6 workshop with discount…

If you are considering attending the workshop in Seattle on July 6th, please note that there is a nearly 20% discount if your school does not reimburse you. Just type in the coupon code noschoolsupport when checking out and you will receive a $14 discount!

Follow this link to check out the details about the workshop.

“I’m loving the One-word Image lessons with my students. It was great being in your workshop in Japan last month, and I’m happy to have made some pretty great changes in my classroom.” – Paul

“Hi Mike, I just wanted to let you know that the workshop that you did with my department has made an impact. One of my colleagues has continued with the OWIs and her students love them. She also did a Movie Talk lesson and then expanded off that with different versions based on the Movie Talk. She is excited because she sees how the students are acquiring the language.” – Cameron

“I was at your workshop in Brattleboro. It was awesome!” – Carmela

“I want to take this opportunity to share how well FVR has been going in my class. That chat I had with you when you were presenting at my school (in Oregon) was the last piece I needed to have direction and take the leap. At first it felt like I wasn’t ‘working’ – I mostly sit at my desk reading a book that I want to read anyway!! But when after a few weeks I asked my students for feedback (via an online survey), the feedback was overwhelming positive. They (especially the introverts) enjoy having time to go at their own pace, to sit in silence, to relax, and many said they like seeing how the sentences work, figuring out words, learning words they don’t hear in class, etc. Thanks again!” – Stephanie

“As a newbie to CI, I need all the help I can get! Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration in Vermont last month. I wish I could keep it all “fresh,” but hopefully your book and the notes will guide me along.” – Barbara

“You are amazing! Thanks for putting new sparks on the fire for me and my students.” – Sharon

“The Maravillas will be an awesome change of pace this last few months of school.” – Viviana

“You are AMAZING! Your maravillas are so wonderful. I never thought of the write and discuss. Mil gracias por todo!” – Laura

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Common assessments, common experiences, and the messy path of acquisition

Teacher: Hi Mike. I’ve read all your stuff but one thing that I am hearing from the more resistant-to-CI teachers is: “How do we address common assessments with this approach? How do we ensure we are on the “same page”?” I realize that until we can all discuss bigger things with answers grounded in SLA research, these questions are futile as they all need to understand the paradigm shift– moving beyond units, etc. Even so, I do notice that you don’t mention common assessments in your “My Perfect Year” book where you discuss this topic. Could you speak to that briefly? When you worked with other teachers in your dept’s journey to CI, did you have any common “end points”?

Mike’s response: Sometimes traditional teachers are unwilling to abandon common assessments because, although they may never articulate it this way, they do not trust that their colleagues will “cover what needs to be covered”. Good for you that you were able to abandon vocab & grammar sections on the common assessments! You have won the nit-picky “let’s use assessments to compare teachers” fight… I have never seen that approach successfully build a department, it only tears people down.

So first the truth: I don’t mention common assessments because we stopped using them altogether. I imagine that your colleagues won’t want to hear that, but there is a wide if silent agreement among many national presenters who have told me privately about their own practice, even when they present on assessment methods. Over and over again, experts suggest less formal assessments, less time giving those assessments, and more time for a variety of CI activities. Assessment is necessary for the teacher to understand their own impact and some assessments help students appreciate what they do in class as they recognize the progress that they have made. Informal assessment is integrated into the meat of every activity we do. I also often use quick, formative assessments such as exit quizzes to verify that specific lessons were comprehensible to the less vocal students (such as after story-listening). But informal and formative assessments are quite different from the big common assessments that many departments develop.

Common assessments, on the other hand, are almost always summative with one of three less-than-useful intentions. They want assessments that will (1) organize students by proficiency level or some other metric of language ability, (2) identify the “strong” teachers so that “weak” teachers can learn from them, and/or (3) inform students of where they are on their path to proficiency in the belief that that helps them chart out strategies to continue onward. This last point implies some conscious awareness of their language acquisition which might be useful for a self-study student who is going into deep immersion over the summer (I have seen it!), but that does not seem very relevant to most high school students. The other, more troublesome take away could be that students are supposed to consciously keep track of their language learning, stuff like “hey you need to remember not to conjugate verbs after prepositions unless…”, that kind of feedback could be very harmful. See a researcher named John Truscott on this point.

In my experience, the second option never works in practice (and when I look at it on paper, a chill runs through my bones). You might be tempted to develop data comparing your CI students with their students, thus encouraging colleagues to go pure CI once they see how well your students perform. I wish humans were so rational. Instead most of us would be humiliated and become entrenched in our thinking when faced with “data”, and we find ways to disprove it or interpret differently. Changing the culture of the department requires a fine dance to prevent anyone from digging in.

The best option in that case is to train your entire staff on different ways to “dipstick” or get informal assessments in the moment so that teachers recognize the exact moment when students cannot understand what is being said, or better yet (following Krashen), when the “illusion of comprehensibility” has been broken and students begin to feel confused. A less-than-effective colleague who develops the tools to better read his/her students will then develop skills to self-assess his/her delivery of CI. Change from within is an approach that takes years and requires a growth mindset from the teacher, but is there really any other way?

The other reason to use common assessments, to organize a student population to better provide instruction, I think is deeply flawed, but there is less agreement among various presenters on this point. I believe that kids should not be penalized for how their brains work. They all need rich CI, even those who do not output quickly or accurately. Some educators would rather divide the student population so that the teacher can provide input that is roughly at the same level. I believe that all classes are multi-level classes, and that separating students creates an unequal and unnecessary social reality that inevitably confirms to many students that “they are not smart”. Students succeed most when they feel successful.

Some educators might argue that “the community is paying me” to assign accurate grades… which is ridiculous. I am being paid to support the development of all of my students. I am not being paid to give a grade that will allow colleges to determine whether or not to accept my student… I am not a gate keeper of any kind. I do not issue grades to determine whether students should move on (the answer is always yes unless they simply did not come to class, the only reason my students would earn less than a B). Some of my assessments, the ones that give me a critical perspective of my students true abilities, are never reported as grades. They are for me, to determine how to push forward and determine exactly what “i + 1” is for my students. Your colleagues who expect common assessments will probably never accept this argument, but I do not think that a common assessment that spits back a number or letter grade associated with each student is valuable.

So here is a brief answer if you HAVE to have common assessments; I would try to get teachers to collect data that could improve their own teaching. (1) Quick writes without any prompt or lesson to serve as a template… just a 5 minute quick write at the BEGINNING of class to get a real sense of the language in students head, (2) another quick write after an activity that introduces new vocab or content (OWI for lower level classes, one of my Maravillas for levels 2 and above). The purpose of the second quick write is to understand whether the teacher is providing enough repetition and is going slow enough to maximize acquisition. Ideally the teacher will recognize that variations in the way the lesson is presented to different classes impact acquisition & will seek to identify those variations. The big lesson for each teacher to learn via quick writes is how to provide grammatically-rich but vocab-limited input in class. In the case of OWIs, the questions that guide the creation of an OWI limit the possible vocab used so that, over time, students hear a lot of unpredictable structures within a very predictable format. (3) Teacher reads aloud a short EASY EASY reading, students listen with no visual text. After each paragraph teacher asks comprehension questions that can be answered in one word (concrete questions, not open-ended questions). The purpose is for teachers to become aware of an optimal reading speed when reading aloud to class. Be careful not to de-motivate students by reading for too long, too fast or otherwise being incomprehensible. Encourage teachers to use a text that is new but ridiculously easy. The idea is not to find the students “drowning point”, but rather to make teachers better at speaking clearly and slowly. (4) However you put this together, do not administer the entire common assessment on the same day. Have the first five minute quick-write on Monday, the second quick write on Tuesday (again, 5 minutes), the reading comprehension on Wednesday. If you have small enough classes you could have upper levels record a short conversation on Thursday. The assessment should not be announced as such to students: you do not want students to overthink the output, you don’t want to invoke the monitor. Just a normal day, as far as they are concerned. No need to ever “tell them the results” either, since the data is all to improve teaching.

You might have noticed that I have avoided addressing the “creating a common experience” thread while discussing assessment. A common experience is often understood as common content, whereas you want to develop common skill sets. Avoid any common assessment that would guide teachers to create a day to day “common experience” that leads them to teach to a test. Any test for which students can explicitly be prepared would not be a valid assessment of language ability. The solution my department adopted was to stress the Sweet 16 verbs throughout the 4 year curriculum. Please click here to read an essay where I flesh out what a common experience looks like in my department. In short, when any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes. At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

I have to say, letting go of the concrete “scope and sequence” type goals and instead stressing the Sweet 16 verbs has made my department much happier and functional. Teachers put more effort into their classes now that they feel successful and part of a successful team. Feeling like you are letting your colleagues down because you cannot get that list of prepositional phrases into your students heads is not good for the teacher, their colleagues, or their students.

I hope some of these ideas are useful. I am sure you will need to re-frame the assessment ideas if you present them to your colleagues (especially if they are keen to give students grades and not so keen to self-evaluate). Nonetheless I think these ideas could lead to fruitful self-reflection that might move the process along.

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Published! The 2nd edition of “Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish”

For a limited time I am offering a 23% discount when bought directly from my website!
Click here to go to the purchase page

The second edition of “Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish” is a collection of thirty-four essays by classroom teachers who pay special attention to what Stephen Krashen has written about educating heritage learners. Starting with a description of Krashen’s concept of “Language Shyness” and how it is reflected in our classes, we outline approaches that respect the unique needs of heritage learners. Topics include: the differences between heritage and native speakers of Spanish, a surprisingly illuminating essay about the differences between native-speaking and non-native speaking teachers, reflections on appropriate goals to structure a school year, home-school communication and issues particular to working with non-English speaking families, how to develop an independent reading program and how to structure a class with extremely heterogeneous reading levels, working within school cultures that may inadvertently undermine the needs of heritage learners, and a host a activities that work well in heritage learner classes. There are four essays outlining entirely different approaches to the school year: one that modifies a traditional thematic approach including descriptions for monthly units, a second approach based on pleasure reading designed to develop a love of reading even among low-level readers, a language arts approach designed to work in tandem with teachers in the ELA program, and an identity-based approach explicitly designed to strengthen the connections between home, school and community. In addition there are three essays detailing different approaches to leading mixed classes, with both heritage and non-heritage learners.

The second edition also strengthens our approach to reading, offering big picture advice on developing a pleasure reading program as well as concrete, day to day activities that are easy to follow when you are just too tired to think about the big picture. We want you to not only be an effective teacher, but to thoroughly enjoy your HL classes and design an experience that your students find compelling, stimulating and yes… even enjoyable.

Click here to see the table of contents of the second edition, with new essays and essays with substantial changes highlighted in yellow.

This book is also available on Amazon.

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Beginner Japanese lesson: A Happy to be Mean Scissors – with Kurumi

Click here to go straight to the video.

I am just a few lessons into my year long plunge into the Japanese language and I have already had a dream with Japanese words sloshing about 🙂 Although I have just started this journey, I feel like I am already getting some insights into my own practice as a language teacher. First of all, I love working with One Word Images (OWIs) to create a concrete object of conversation. It has helped me feel out how the Japanese language sounds and, unlike learning a few words out of context, I am already developing an early paradigm of Japanese grammar through the natural process of acquisition. Word order and these little particles are sliding into place, often I mimic them incorrectly in these first few hours of acquisition, but that is to be expected. I am feeling pretty good.

The questions that I am currently asking to create characters
However, as a Spanish teacher I had never sensed how the first scripted questions of the OWI process leads to adjectives that are not particularly useful. Well, I always knew that the questions led to a whimsical initial vocabulary, and I have no problem with that… but why am I talking about colors so much? Physical descriptions are okay, but describing the physical environment is not a high-frequency skill needed by language learners! As a result, in the coming lessons I am beginning to explore changing the initial questions in the OWI process. As a learner I find it useful to have a predictable framework of questions around the unpredictable language of the tutors. I like being able to observe how different tutors answer the same questions but, rather than bringing forward language about colors and size, I want to ask questions that calls forth high frequency actions (i.e. the Super 7 and eventually the Sweet 16 verbs).

The interesting experiment that I will be conducting in the next few months is to determine how quickly I feel comfortable expanding out from the Super Seven to the Sweet Sixteen verbs. If you are unfamiliar with these basic building blocks of a communicative curriculum, take a look at this blog post I wrote about applying the concept to my Spanish classes.

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Learning Japanese, Comprehensible Input and reflections on teaching

In mid-May I began publishing videos of my tutoring sessions as I acquire Japanese through the same CI methods that I use in the Spanish classes that I teach. Here is the link to the first complete session recorded (before I had some technical issues to overcome as I learned how to record via Skype).

If you want to follow along with me on this year-long project then perhaps you might first take a day or two and learn the basic Japanese writing system of Hiragana using this wonderful system. Or you can learn the characters in context… following the videos will give you that reading practice. When it comes to learning Japanese, I am not an expert. Talking to Japanese teachers has helped me recognize that I really am not yet sensitive to the issues that I am about to face.

As a language teacher, I think this video is fascinating. As I was watching the video after class I was amused that it took me so long to be able to hear many of the phrases. My goal was to get a maximum amount of comprehensible input through community storytelling methods. I decided to start with a series of One Word Images until I get comfortable with the basic questions that we use to create a character. In my Spanish classes I often move quickly from creating the first character to creating a problem and a little story around that character, but as we created our character in Japanese (a medium-sized sky-blue peach) I was feeling occupied enough with this static character. In the future I will explore the why’s behind the character’s details and develop a story (and I think our medium-sized peach has enough interesting details to deserve a story of his own when I am ready for it), but right now I am comfortable spending 60 minutes just describing our character.

Of course, the drawing provided a great touchstone for conversation in Japanese. In the video you hear me speaking a lot of English because I literally do not speak any Japaneseyet. I had made three OWIs with tutors before this video, so I had heard enough language to be able to tentatively say a few words, but really you are looking at a pure beginner. Let’s see how far I can go in a year!

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“How do you “catch up” the students who show up at random intervals throughout the year? How can students “recover credit” from absences?”

These two questions were recently voiced by CI teachers struggling with transient student populations. One reported that her former CI department gave up on CI because they could not catch up the students who enter the program late. I suspect that what was happening was that the students who remained in class acquired language, and kept on acquiring language, which made the students who were often absent or entering midyear appear even further behind. That the teachers decided to drop CI because some of their students were actually learning too much speaks to the problem of a fixed unit by unit curriculum. Let me describe what they should be doing instead.

I am known for creating the Sweet 16 verbs. The idea came from Terry Waltz’s fantastic “Super 7” verbs. Terry’s idea was to quickly get your class to a point in which you can tell simple stories, rather than spending months learning thematic vocabulary lists. That was a gigantic leap forward. However, the idea behind the “Sweet 16” verbs is not simply some more verbs tacked on to Terry´s list. When I first proposed the sweet 16, Terry was describing her Super 7 as an anchor for meaningful communication within the first few hours of class.

My contribution was to take an expanded list of sixteen high-frequency words and describe them as a full four year curriculum. Many people miss how this point is a dramatic step forward. In fact, teachers who want a highly-controlled curriculum (i.e., “every teacher does the same exact lesson”) often totally misunderstand this contribution. The Sweet Sixteen, as my department used them, is the essential structure that guides our non-targeted approach to language acquisition. Let me be clear: at the time I taught in a Title I school with a fairly transient population. We enjoyed a 100% pass rate on our AP and IB exams. CI works, even if the student comes in late, even if the student misses a lot of school, even if the students are coming to school high and oblivious (I am thinking about two former students who failed every IB exam except for Spanish… because CI works).

As a department chair trying to design a common experience for students in different classes, with a half dozen different teachers on staff, I could have sought to limit the creativity of students and teachers by insisting that every teacher follow the same collection of story scripts, movie talks, and novels. That is, “all Spanish 1 students will read X novel and discuss Z movie talk. All Spanish 2 students will acquire this list of target structures so that they will be “ready” for Spanish 3″. That is the approach that leads teachers to frustration because they conclude that their transient population is missing too much.

On the other hand, the Sweet 16 verbs represent a different path towards creating a common experience between classes. Of course we do not simply repeat sixteen words for four years, but we do agree that structures with these verbs are the ones that are recycled and given priority at every step in the journey. The only other guideline we follow is to simply strive to provide compelling CI, for four years.

We recognized that in any classroom there will be many different interests, and that when students are following their own interests then they perceive the input as more compelling, which leads to faster acquisition. That is the funny thing about those studies which try to count how many times a student needs to hear a word to fully acquire it… teachers know that swears might be fully acquired the very first time they are understood whereas an abstract transition word that the student never uses in their own L1 could be uttered comprehensibly 500 times and not be fully acquired. The Sweet 16 gives a department the flexibility to allow their teachers and students to pursue different interests in class, to use different language, but guarantees that there will be a common communicative foundation throughout the entire program. For example, the Sweet 16 verbs allow one teacher to develop an independent reading program for her students in which students are all reading different books (and thus developing their own idiosyncratic vocabularies), while another teacher develops his CI skills guiding his students through an authentic telenovela.

There is another major advantage to running a department this way. When any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes. At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

This is necessary because students move into our district at every level, and we cannot just leave them behind because they did not start with us. We need to provide a comprehensible experience at all levels, even if students missed the first 3 years of our CI program because they were learning thematic vocab in another district.

If you are interested, a succinct but complete description of my non-targeted approach to CI is available in my book My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide For Language Teachers. I will also be in many locations giving workshops this summer and next Autumn, check my schedule here.

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Comprehensible Cascadia in Portland OREGON is the Language Lovers conference

Get ready for a good time!

Comprehensible Cascadia is a small, intimate CI conference held in July in Portland, Oregon. WOW does it pack a punch! One of the strengths of the conference is the coherent vision among presenters. This is not a conference that will leave you unable to implement the strategies once you are back in the classroom. Each track is well-planned with a morning session in which you experience the methods as a student and an afternoon session in which you practice delivering the methods as a teacher.

This year there are two tracks: a track for teaching beginners through intermediate level students (roughly levels 1-3) and a track for teaching upper level students (roughly from level 3 through to AP, IB or level 5). Within the first track participants choose which lesser taught language they want to experience as a student: either Korean, Cherokee, ASL or Scottish-Gaelic. Participants experience learning a new language in the morning and then practice the techniques as a teacher in the afternoon (led by Tina Hargaden). The Upper level track learns CALP strategies in the morning with Tina Hargaden and practices and extends those strategies with me in the afternoon sessions.

Comprehensible Cascadia is the only CI Conference that has an ASL track. Last year I had the chance to observe Frederick Stamps teach ASL and, as a Spanish teacher, I was blown away by his technique and his ability to make himself comprehensible. In the past I have walked away from ASL demos with the sinking feeling that a sign language is really hard for me to learn, but Fred makes it effortless and fun.

Many people believe that Asian languages are particularly difficult to learn; I will be joining the morning sessions with Janet Kyung learning Korean and participating as moderator. Together we will demonstrate that there simply are no “difficult” languages, only difficult approaches to teaching a language. We are opting for the easy way full of laughter: we will follow the star sequence that includes co-creating visual characters (OWIs), Story-Creation, Write & Discuss, Visual Story Telling, Visual Culture, easy reading choices and plenty of active strategies that get you on your feet and processing the target language. The Korean language will be running through your dreams at night!

Wade Blevins will be leading the morning session in Cherokee. He was born in the small Cherokee community of Butler, Oklahoma and is a member of the Squirrel Ridge Ceremonial Grounds. For the past 11 years, Wade has worked for Cherokee Nation in the Education department helping with his tribe’s language revitalization efforts. Wade is an award winning Native artist and writer, having written 7 children’s books on Cherokee culture. He is also very involved in his tribe’s ceremonies and has served as a ceremonial singer and leader from an early age. Wade feels like CI techniques will be the key to helping his people pass their language down to the next generation. With the support of Cherokee Nation and other partners, Wade recently organized the IGNITE conference, the nation’s first CI conference specifically for Native language educators in June 2017.

Have you ever thought to yourself that you just do not have the energy to do CI all day every day? You need to experience Jason Bond’s unique approach to CI. Meditation and mindfulness is the foundation for Jason’s everyday life. Over the years, he deepened his practice on retreats at Samye Ling temple in Scotland and at Plum Village in France. Lately, he has trained as a meditation teacher under the guidance of Julian ‘Daizan’ Skinner, the first Englishman to become a Rinzai Zen master in Japan. Jason also became one of Daizan’s Zen students. This new direction is dedicated to helping others develop calm, stability, and focus – three invaluable qualities for any stage of the CI journey. Jason will be teaching the Scottish-Gaelic morning session.

We are bringing Pablo Pankun Román to Portland for his only appearance in the States this summer. Pablo is an amazing polyglot that you may know from his Dreaming Spanish videos. He learns his languages through pure CI approaches and will be leading a one day pre-conference Spanish class for teachers on Monday. Pablo has an entirely different approach to CI than that which is presented at the big conferences in the US, partly because his exposure to CI draws from his experiences in Japan and Thailand where the organic nature of language acquisition is emphasized. Throughout the week I plan on exploring the outer reaches of CI techniques with Pablo and contemplating how these techniques might translate to the context of US public schools.

Comprehensible Cascadia is the conference that pushes boundaries and explores new paths. And OMG Portland has good food!!! Come out to dinner and then join us at Ben Slavic’s place afterwards for evening coaching and great conversations.

Come join me for a week of language learning & teaching fun!

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OWI tweak for nervous teachers

I can be a nervous teacher at times. I hate having to keep track of many things at once… I like to be able to simply focus on my students and their responses. I find that if part of my mind is focused on one or two steps ahead of where we are, then I cannot react to what we are doing in the moment and my nervousness ends up making me miss some of those beautiful, enjoyable moments of pure creativity.

A few weeks ago I was in Cameron Taylor’s classroom and we were working on One Word Images (OWI) in four different languages: Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin and French. Normally when I demo we stick to one language and delve deep into that language so that workshop participants can get a sense of the depth of acquisition that can happen with OWIs. Since our Japan workshop lasted two days rather than one, we decided to work in small groups after the initial demo so that more people could experience the process of making a OWI from the teacher’s perspective before returning to their classrooms on the following Monday.

On the board I wrote a quick outline of the characteristics that I was going to ask about to help scaffold the process. Normally in my own classroom I have this posted on a small note card because my heritage students lead OWI creation during lunch tutorials. It never occurred to me, however, how useful it is for everyone to be able to see the scaffolding! Not only do I, the nervous teacher, no longer have to consult my note card to remember what the next question is… but students are now anticipating the questions and thinking of more creative responses beforehand. Cameron added this tweak to his classes the following Monday and reported that they created one of their best OWIs yet!

I created a poster that you can download and hang on the side of the whiteboard. If you print it in color then you get a cool blue glow, but it still looks good printed in black & white.

Remember that the purpose of posting this scaffold poster is to be able to participate in the flow of the lesson with your students. If you use this and find that you are listening to your students less as you barrel through the list of characteristics, then slow down! The whole idea is to be in the moment and listen carefully to your students’ brilliant ideas. Download the poster by clicking here: it is a series of four pages printed in landscape mode.

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Earth Day 2018

A few points of departure for discussion in class today:

(1) Start with this maravilla about the Ka’apor people who live in the Amazon. Una maravilla is a marvelous thing, and so that is how I refer to this series which I use to introduce the people and cultures of Latin America to my students. The Ka’apor people struggle to prevent deforestation from destroying their way of life. This download contains a picture talk, a subtitled video, a short highly comprehensible reading followed by space for a Write & Discuss activity. This should be able to be completed within 15-20 minutes.

(2) Ska de la Tierra (song)

(a) we did NOT listen first, we just looked at the lyrics and translated/discussed with the audio off. While the song goes fast, this first look at the lyrics is pretty easy.

zoom(b) This matching game is Spanish audio to Spanish text so that students get to hear her voice before actually viewing the video. After matching I chose a student to translate all of the lyrics. We do this several times to acquaint ourselves further with the song.

(c) We watch this version of the video, which has excellent images matching the principal lyrics.

(3) Video “Man”. A bit disturbing, but really gets to the idea that we should be thoughtful about how we use natural resources.

Now let´s focus on why we love the natural world:
(4) Los 30 lugares más bonitos del mundo
We sat in quiet awe as we watched this video.

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Anyone want to take this French class with me?!

Are you a Spanish teacher like me who wishes they could sit in and observe an advanced French class?Although it says “advanced”, I personally have taken that as aspiration rather than description. Each class is a discussion of an AP-theme reading that we read before class. Take a look, there are currently only 5 people signed up and we need 6.

Advanced French for French Teachers (and other advanced speakers of French) – Online!

Do you wish you had more French-teacher colleagues? Do you feel like your French is stagnating because you only talk with your students? Join us for this 6-session Advanced French class taught by Anna Gilcher, PhD.

Anna is a well-known national presenter and trainer on teaching with comprehensible input and creating diversity-positive classrooms. Learn more about her at

**Inscrivez-vous ici**

Prix: $216/personne pour la série (payable par Venmo, Google Pay, ou Paypal – ou payable par chèque)

Places disponibles: 20 (minimum 6)

Dates (jeudi 16h30-17h30 EDT)
le 22 mars
le 5 avril
le 12 avril
le 29 avril
le 3 mai
le 10 mai*
*si tout le monde est disponible le 29 mars, on se verra le 29 mars au lieu de se rencontrer le 10 mai

J’enverrai chaque semaine (le lundi avant le cours) le texte dont on discutera.
Voici les thèmes pour les séances (les thèmes viennent du cours AP):
séance 1: La famille et la communauté
séance 2: La science et la technologie
séance 3: L’esthétique
séance 4: La vie contemporaine
séance 5: Les défis mondiaux
séance 6: La quête de soi


Anna Gilcher, PhD
Co-Director, Elevate Education Consulting
Your brain can learn French & Spanish!
French/Spanish lessons for all ages and brains

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Write & Discuss example

As I was preparing a video session for Scott Benedict’s online conference I looked through some old class footage to see if I could caption a good example of a typical Write & Discuss (W & D) session. This is the activity that I recommend any CI teacher end their class with, regardless of what was being done in class. It is surprising to me that many CI teachers do not end their classes with a quick W & D… whether you have spent the class interviewing a student, chatting about the weekend or even watching youtube videos, W & D is an excellent way to get one last repetition of the input by summarizing the class period and getting that information into their notebooks. The W & D texts are a great answer when parents ask what their children are supposed to study for midterm or final exams.

To be clear, W & D is a short end of class routine that lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. Here is a typical 55 minute lesson that I might have planned (or just performed off the cuff):

The following example of Write & Discuss came after creating a class story like in the first lesson plan, but it could have easily focused on the chat about after school plans, or both. Here is the video:

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Ode to Annabelle Allen

A day with Annabelle Allen, 2018 Louisiana Foreign language Teacher of the Year

Most people know Annabelle “la maestra loca” Allen for her incredible charisma, high-energy and, of course, her signature brain breaks. Today I spent the day with forty other lucky teachers and Annabelle at East Wake Academy in North Carolina. One thing that struck me as I followed her presentation is that Annabelle Allen is much more than brain breaks. I often hear people say that they could not reproduce Annabelle’s kind of high-energy performance in class, but sifting past what I cannot imitate left me with the characteristic of great teachers that I must be able to channel if I want to be effective: Annabelle is incredibly mindful of her students. It can be hard not to get swept up in the absolute hurricane that is her personality, but it would be a mistake to believe that her performance is on a stage untouched and unaware of her audience. How many times have I taught with a sort of tunnel vision, not truly taking the time to look deeply into the eyes of my students?!

Annabelle reminded me today of another hero of mine who has the uncanny ability to calmly, lovingly remember each student’s contribution to a class story and consistently honors that student by gently gesturing in her direction whenever that contribution is recalled in class. If you have ever sat in a class taught by Ben Slavic, you know how special you feel when he says your detail a day later during a retell, then pauses, gently raising his hand palm up in your direction, pausing still to make eye contact with you and for a second nods slightly with a grateful smile as if to say, “yes, blue, you saved our story with that wonderful idea of yours, of course our character is blue“. The difference between Ben’s slow, pondering approach and Annabelle’s frenetic energy could not be greater on a superficial level, yet they are undoubtedly related.

I have heard people suggest that when you observe another CI teacher you should take notes on how they made themselves comprehensible. It is a technique that helps the viewer maintain some distance so that, instead of being entranced by the lesson, the observer can actively observe the mechanics of a good CI teacher. If you have the chance to observe Annabelle, however, consider making a list of how she makes each student feel valued and loved. Some of her techniques, like the crayons of many different colors technique, she will openly articulate… while others are worth holding yourself slightly outside of the tornado of her lesson with the hope of getting a glimpse at how thoroughly she observes the students in her midst.

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My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide for Language Teachers

I have just published the book that accompanies the workshop that I am giving this Spring. If you are attending a workshop then you will get a free copy, but if you cannot make it the book is currently on sale. Purchased from my website it is 20% off.

This guide is more than a collection of effective activities for any language classroom; it succinctly describes my entire approach that I use all year long in levels one through three. Starting with routines and class space, I describe how to design an effective classroom environment for language acquisition. I cover my approach to essential activities that provide personalized, imaginative and comprehensible language throughout the year. Also learn how to develop and maintain a classroom library for any language, with special attention to providing lower level texts for absolute beginners. Since an independent reading program is a core element to my approach, I describe a multi-year plan to build your reading program including ideas outlining how to transition from no reading program and reading activities that support independent readers. Special attention is dedicated to the use of authentic videos in a comprehensible classroom. Learn to expand a sixty second video into a language-rich fifty-five minute lesson plan. This guide also outlines an essential technique for the health and well-being of all teachers: how to organize a “substitute day while you are still in class” for those days when you need a rest but want your students to continue acquiring language. Remain refreshed and fascinated with the target cultures where the language you teach is spoken so that you can provide imaginative, compelling lessons to your students! This guide closes with advice on how to lead a department in transition from traditional methods to comprehensible input methods in a way that respects the professional judgement of all educators in your department.

Click here to purchase the book.

Mike Peto is a Spanish teacher who led his department to transition to proficiency-based methods of language acquisition and, with the collaboration of his team, they enjoy a 100% pass rate on AP and IB exams. Known for his blog documenting his teaching, My Generation of Polyglots, Mike is also the editor of a collection of essays for teachers of heritage learners of Spanish, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners, and the author of several novels for language learners. He has given workshops on language acquisition around the world and is a well-known presenter at national and regional conventions for language teachers. His essays have been included in seminal publications on comprehensible input methods such as Fluency Through Reading and Storytelling (7th edition) by Blaine Ray and Contee Seeley and A Natural Approach to the Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. Mike is also a founding member of The CI Posse.

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Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Angie Dodd is hosting me on Saturday, March 17th at her school in Brattleboro, Vermont. “My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

This workshop is currently halfway to sold out. Register here.

I also have some time available the following week (March 20-24) if you are interested in hosting me on the eastern side of the state in either Massachusetts or Connecticut.

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Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Portland, Oregon – TWO WORKSHOPS (Choose the one that is most convenient for you)- Monday Feb 12 at Westside Christian High School in Tigard, Oregon and also Friday February 16 at Oregon City School District’s District Admin Office, 1417 12th Street, Oregon City.

“My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

Participants that sign up by February 5th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year. Early discount available now.

Register for Monday workshop in Tigard by clicking here.
Register for Friday workshop in Oregon City by clicking HERE.

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Sometimes students long for something real

Working with student-created images does not have to be frivolous

I was looking through some of my favorite One Word Images that my students created in 2017 and I came across the story of Coco, the tale of a transgender piece of paper born with all of the biological parts of un papel but self-identifying as “una hoja” de papel. I made this with a Spanish 3 class.

I did not walk into class that day with the intention of creating a heavy story. I did sense that students were not in the mood for another crazy adventure with wacky details and a nonsensical plot. Sometimes they like that; when they take ownership of such a story there is no better use of class time than following that crazy story. But when students get burned out on stories, sometimes what they really want is to talk about something real.

The trick to eliciting these kinds of stories is to zealously protect a classroom culture of trust. Adolescents constantly monitor social boundaries. When a student makes an off-color remark, every adolescent in the room is watching to see what is permitted by the teacher. When a student makes a racist or homophobic comment, a stern but silent look of reproach is not the right response. Silence communicates to some students that there are some things which are left unsaid in polite society, but we essentially agree. It took me a long time to realize that the stern glare of reproach does not condemn intolerance, instead it pathetically pleads “not here, please don’t ruin my class”. Every other student observes this dynamic. Students in such a class learn that their feelings will not be protected, that there is no line that cannot be crossed. I developed a routine that I call “the cool generation” to create a safe space in my classroom. Click here to read about it; the key is to make sure that you get a full, hearty class response that they reject the hatred of past generations.

On that day I chose the drawing of a piece of paper from a pile that students had created weeks beforehand. Sometimes when class-created stories are not clicking I will “press the reset button” by having students draw for ten minutes in silence, and then we will move on with a student interview or a movie talk. For that reason I always have a pile of drawings on my desk that we can later use as inspiration. As I held up the drawing and we established some basic information about the character, I listened closely and did not jump at the first crazy idea that was offered.

This is the character that my kids came up with. Totally respectful, these kids embraced the metaphor in our character and created a serious, meaningful story. Here is the set-up to “Coco” that we created on the first day:

En un bosque mágico hay una hoja de papel que se llama Coco. Coco nació con todas las partes biológicas de un papel, pero ahora que tiene ocho años y seis meses ella se identifica como “una hoja”, no como “un papel”.

Todos los árboles del bosque son las madres de Coco. Coco tiene muchas mamás.

Ella tiene un hermano mayor también. El hermano es un papel grande que le pega a Coco cuando sus madres no están mirando. Coco se pone maquillaje (líquido corrector) para que sus mamás no vean los moretones.

That took us a good half hour of discussion in Spanish to develop the idea while making sure that each development of our story remained perfectly comprehensible to everyone. When the student came up with that first powerhouse idea, that Coco self-identifies as “a piece of paper” (feminine noun) although she was born with all of the biological parts of “un papel” (masculine noun), I paused and in English told the class that we could not move forward if we could not do this respectfully. “I am willing to follow this story to see where it goes, but we are not using this as a code to make fun of somebody real in this school. Are you with me?” I think that pausing and explicitly setting the boundaries in English was important, even though that was a norm that should be expected of any class story. I think it also served as a social cue that we were doing something extraordinary in that story, and so the engagement was quite high.

The next day was one of the most emotionally draining classes I have ever taught. At first everyone was silent, reluctant to face what we constructed the day before. I let them brainstorm in pairs for a few minutes and then an avalanche of violent, vengeful plots came forward… pushing her bully brother into a paper shredder, for example. Finally I turned to them and admitted (in English) that I really needed a hopeful ending. An ending that did not walk the road of violence. An ending that is not pure fantasy but maybe, with the help of a little poetry, could help us imagine a brighter future. Wow did they come through. The ending is bittersweet.

This was an effective language class because students were so engaged. It is not a question of how many repetitions did I get on a particular target structure– when students are highly engaged, they pick up more with less repetitions. This is how my students learn the subjunctive, this is how they learn advanced grammatical constructions like si clauses. We were also hitting so many AP and IB themes in this story that it is no wonder that my students can spontaneously respond when they take those exams after only four years of classes.

Here is the rest of the story that we created together on the second day:

Coco se culpa por el abuso de su hermano. Ella se dice que no debe decírselo a nadie. Ella cree que es ella la mala. Ella cree que si dijera algo a sus mamás, sería una mala hoja de papel. Nosotros sabemos que ella está equivocada, pero muchas veces las víctimas se quedan en silencio. No debe ser así, pero desafortunadamente es normal.

Un día Coco decide decir algo a su mamá. Ella dice a una de sus mamás que su hermano le pega y primero la mamá no cree que sea la verdad. “Mi hijo nunca te pegaría”, dice la mamá-árbol. Después la mamá le dice que “papeles serán papeles” y que Coco no debe provocar a su hermano. Coco se pone muy triste.

Coco decide que necesita irse. Ella se dobla y se convierte en un avión de papel. Vuela muy lejos. El hermano está solo. Después de años él se siente solo, muy solo. Él quiere hablar con su hermana, pero ella no está.

Un día el hermano recibe un regalo. Cuando abre el regalo, él ve que el papel alrededor del regalo es su hermana. Ella volvió solo cuando él estaba listo para verla.

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Persona normal by Benito Taibo

A good addition to a heritage learners classroom library

There are some books that speak to adolescents who are forming a worldview. Over the past year I have suggested Benito Taibo’s Persona normal as an independent reading choice to four of my advanced heritage learners. Three of the students politely returned the book to the bookshelf unread. The fourth student devoured it. He wrote on Goodreads: “nunca supe que un libro puede ser tan estimulante de emoción”. Looking at some of the other reviews (there are close to 2000 of them), this book clearly speaks to certain young people, to inspire them and celebrate a reading life. It seems to alienate some other readers. Well, truthfully I am among the alienated crowd, but I would still recommend buying this book as an independent reading choice for advanced heritage learners. Suggest it to students who may already see themselves as possessing an intellectual inclination and who may see themselves as non-conformists.

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Low Income School? Here is funding to bring students abroad!!

Eligible if at least 40% of your students are receiving free and reduced price lunch

I was recently contacted by the FLYTE Organization, which funds trips for low-income schools that are well outlined and thought out with clear educational and cultural goals. The application window is extremely tight; you need to start working on this now. Before leaving for Winter Break I would drop by to see my principal and get her signature. Look at the deadlines to the left; that is to lead a trip during the summer of 2018. To me this deadline seems so tight that I suspect many school systems would not be able to approve it, which means if you can then your chances of leading a free trip for your students are that much better.

Here is the link to the application guidelines.

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Desaparecido – The thrill of connecting a reader with a home run book

Last July I posted about Spanish translations of graphic novels and manga that I enthusiastically recommend for the classroom. Well, I have exciting news: one of the great manga series, called Desaparecido in Spanish, has been adapted to Netflix. It is called “Erased” in English.

Yes, the audio is in Japanese. Yes, there are options for Spanish as well as English subtitles. But none of that matters to me; what I am excited about is the possibility of matching a student with a home run book. Last year I was able to bond with an otherwise inscrutable heritage learner through our mutual admiration for this series. Finding this series probably was the only reason he eventually paid enough attention in class to actually pass, so I am deeply grateful that it was translated into Spanish. Now that the series is playing on Netflix I anticipate being able to interest non-Spanish speaking otaku, i.e., kids obsessed with manga, often sometimes to the detriment of their social skills (see comment thread below).

The language in the books is certainly not comprehensible for lower level learners, but this is a case in which extreme high-interest may serve as a bridge to reading. Especially if they have already seen the version on Netflix. In any case, these manga are great for book talks and, supplementing it with a few screen shots from the Netflix version, this could be a key book to interest an otherwise impenetrable student. You can find the books for sale here on Spanish Amazon (there are actually 7 or 8 books in the series, but just buy the first to see if it works in your classroom). And, in any case, you probably need something to binge watch over Winter Break. I am only two episodes in, but I am really enjoying the Netflix adaptation of the popular manga. Watch it so you can “sell” the reading to your kids!

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A whole slew of new comprehensible novels!!!

There are lots of new CI novels being published by independent authors, which is very exciting for those of us with classroom libraries. Here is one of the key secrets to reading in the classroom: kids may be fickle readers, but there is a “home run” book for every reader. The bigger the diversity of comprehensible texts, the more likely you will be able to match a student with a book that tickles their fancy. Only a few years ago CI teachers were on a quest to find the perfect book that pleases everyone in class, but now the focus has shifted to matching each student with a book that will ignite a passion for reading in their second language. For Spanish teachers, this is more and more possible… in level 1! Let’s take a look at some of the new books out there:

Pancho y las momias by Rachel Emery. When Pancho and a new friend sneak into the Guanajuato Mummy Museum at night, unexpected events send them on an adventure around the city. Yes, there are hilarious scenes of mummies waking up and causing havoc in Guanajuato, but there is also something about this book that just feels authentic. Details like the illustration of the man selling tamales and atole set the scene perfectly. The author has captured an aspect of Guanajuato that clearly could only come from real life. I also like that the chapters are very short. It is a novel written in comprehensible Spanish for late beginner/early intermediate Spanish students. Both present and past tense versions of the story are included.

Los tres amigos by Jennifer Degenhardt. It is about time that LGBTQ students can finally find a CI novel that is not implicitly heteronormative! As if teenage friendships aren’t hard enough… Marissa and Jack have been best friends for as long as they can remember, only having troubles when Jack wasn’t always honest about himself. Despite their differences, their friendship endures. However, that friendship is challenged when a new student, Julio, moves to town and upsets the longstanding dynamic between Marissa and Jack. In this level 2+ book, which includes aspects of Puerto Rican culture, readers learn useful vocabulary and are introduced to a progression of verb tenses through the easily understandable plot — understandable even if the emotions of the teenagers are not.

El Jersey by Jennifer Degenhardt. Matías is a typical 7-year-old boy. He is huge fan of the professional soccer teams in Europe, especially the teams in the Spanish league, La Liga. When Matías is not playing soccer, he is watching soccer videos on the iPad. He always looks the part, too, as he can mostly be found wearing uniforms of players on his favorite team, FC Barcelona. He focus on the ball continues as when he travels to Guatemala with his family on an annual trip where he meets Brayan. Brayan is a 6-year-old Guatemalan boy who also loves soccer. Like Matías he plays every chance he gets. Also like Matías, Brayan idolizes his favorite player on the Barça team, Lionel Messi, #10. He wants nothing more than to wear a jersey with the famous forward’s name and number, but those are difficult to find where he lives on Lake Atitlán. In this level 1 book, readers will learn about the culture of Guatemala and how a soccer jersey further connects two soccer-obsessed boys from two different countries. This is a level 1 reader for anyone ages 10-100. The author allowed me to post a preview so that you can evaluate how easy this book will be for your students, click here to download the preview.

El viaje difícil by Jennifer Degenhardt. A story of the times. Juan and his family live in small town in the department of Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Their life, which is simple and good, becomes challenging when their earnings become insufficient to maintain the family. Concerned for the welfare of his family whom he loves, Juan makes the difficult decision to make his way to the United States in search of work opportunities. Based on a story told to the author, this book recounts Juan’s journey north as well as examines the effect of his absence on the family he leaves behind. Readers learn facets of Guatemalan culture through entry level vocabulary and grammar.

Casi me mata el celular by A.C. Quintero. Spanish Level 2/3 Easy Reader. Federico, Damián, and Rubén are your typical teens. They play sports, skateboard, and watch pranks on Youtube; they’ve even mastered filming some of their own pranks at their favorite hangout: la librería. This abandoned bookstore is far away from the adult supervision that seeks to threaten their fun. However, the night of Friday the 13th, their joke goes sour when they stumble upon an uncanny situation. In an effort to satisfy their curiosity, they witness something that will change their lives forever. Now they have to make it out of the sticky situation, alive. “Casi me mata el celular” will take students on a thrilling ride and compel them to contemplate the consequences on the other side of the “Record” button.

La clase de confesiones by A.C. Quintero. Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens and Carlos is stunned. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in his life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand. Carlos invites you to come along on this adventure into La clase de confesiones where…”todos tienen una confesión,” even the teacher!

La bella mentira by A.C. Quintero Carlos is having a bad day, and it’s about to get worse. He leaves Spanish class utterly embarrassed. He had no idea that the teacher was going to partner him up with Jessica, the girl he actually writes about in his class essay. Adding insult to injury, the teacher reads his essay in front of the class, even the mean-spirited things he wrote about his teacher. After running into a few more problems in math class (and his crazy math teacher!), he is faced with the big showdown in the lunchroom. Now, Carlos is between *”la espada y la pared.” He has to make serious decisions. However, a short story in Spanish class may hold the key to all of his problems, and may ultimately lead to his biggest confession of all. Find out in the second installment of the series.

La novia perfecta by Bryan Kandel. This 5,000 word Spanish novel uses simple language to tell the compelling tale of a man who tries his luck at internet dating and ends up on the adventure of his life. The text can be understood by students in level 2 Spanish classes, and the compelling story will engage readers at any level.


If you write a CI novel, please drop me a line so that I can check it out. This blog is read by between 500 to 1000 CI teachers every day, and I am pleased to share your work with the CI community. There has never been a better time to develop an independent reading program in your world language classroom.

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Workshop series – 2018

Contact me if you would like to host an inexpensive workshop.

Yokosuka, Japan – April 14 & 15 (Saturday & Sunday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach



Tentatively planned: Focus on Heritage Learners of Spanish workshop in Southern California, June 2018. More information soon!

Tentatively planned: Focus on Heritage Learners of Spanish workshop in Gainesville Georgia, June 2018. More information soon!


Friday, July 6th Seattle, Washington: “My Perfect Year Demo Day” workshop

Portland, OregonComprehensible Cascadia Conference July 10-12
The afternoon sessions that I will be leading are brand new for teachers of intermediate & advanced students with special attention to AP / IB programs. There are also sessions that focus on delivering comprehensible input to novice and intermediate learners. In the morning I will be sitting with Janet Kyung’s Korean class, commenting on the techniques that she uses.


Burlington, VermontExpress Fluency Summer Conference
Intermediate Spanish course (mornings) & workshops for teachers (afternoons)


King George, Virginia – September 7 (Friday) “My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Savannah, Georgia – Saturday, September 15th.
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Parker, Colorado – September 21 (Friday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Laramie, Wyoming – September 22 (Saturday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach


Cincinnati area, Ohio – Saturday, October 20th.
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach
Workshop will take place at:
Liberty Bible School
4900 Old Irwin Simpson Rd.
Mason, OH 45040

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Modifying the blog

A few people have written in to tell me that certain parts of my blog are not functioning or missing. Thank you! The explanation is that I am currently working to make it easier to browse. By next week all of the links and pages will be fully restored, and it will be easier to find specific content when you want it. Thank you for your patience!!

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Alina´s Inspiring Approach to Accountability with FVR

Alina Filipescu is a teacher who radiates love for her students. She is also a teacher who commands enormous respect from them and, as a result, she is an absolute master at classroom management. I asked Alina to allow me to publish this preview of her coming blog post which will thoroughly describe her entire FVR program. I will link to it once she publishes it. In the meantime, enjoy her spot-on advice for inspiring students to read more in their second language.

Here is how Alina describes her accountability system:

This is what ACCOUNTABILITY looks like when implementing a reading program (SSR/FVR).

1. Students turn in a book they finished reading w/ a sticky note.

2. The most important item on the note is rating the book (1-5 stars) just like the critics do. Students may also write an optional comment about the book.
3. Teacher keeps track of how many books each students reads. I have a list with student names and names of books. I highlight a square on the list when a student finishes a book.
4. Remove sticky notes and either put them on the inside cover of a book for the next student to read (this is what I did last year, all year long) OR post the sticky notes by class, on a wall (this is what I’ve implemented this year).

I have already posted some of these ideas (along w/ Bryce Hedstrom), but this is my complete list on accountability. I NEVER have students do summaries or other dreaded assignments after reading a book. I also share some of their reviews before we do silent reading on Fridays, in order to inspire and motivate others. I’ve noticed that even more students are writing short comments since I’ve been doing this. It’s a simple, yet very efficient way to promote the books.

Update 1/4/2018: read Alina’s full post that expands upon this idea

Click here to read Mónica Romero´s original post that inspired Alina.

Alina Filipescu is a Spanish teacher in Southern California and a regular presenter at NTPRS. She is a contributor to the Ignite Language blog.

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How EASY it is to self-publish your CI novel

Let me walk you through the process step by step

I just self-published my fourth book, a translation of my popular novel Superhamburgers into Brazilian Portuguese (I also have translations of Superhamburgers in French & Spanish as well as a collection of essays about teaching Spanish to heritage learners). A fifth book, a graphic novel prequel to Superhamburgers, is on the way and will be published in December. Once you have written a book, formatting it, getting it printed professionally and offering it on Amazon is a pretty simple process. As I was completing this last book I took a lot of screen shots so that I could walk you through the process.

This post is not about the creative process of writing a CI novel– I will write about that in a later post. The post is simply about the technical side of getting your work published and then offering it to the world without having to market, organize inventory, shipping, returns or any of that business stuff. Being a teacher is enough hassle. Once you have written a text, all you need is a word processing program.

I print my books through a service called Createspace, which is a subsidiary of and therefore makes it very easy to offer published work online. You can set up a free account by following that link– in fact, you can do this whole process for free. I will also show you how to offer your book on Kindle, which is a good deal for both you and your readers.

Step One: Correct the Page Size

Starting from the document in Word: Change the size of the page to 9 x 6 to reflect the size of the page in your published book. Once you do this, then you will not have to worry too much about printing errors because the document on your computer will really mirror exactly what will be printed. A word document normally has a default size of a normal letter-sized piece of paper. In order to change the page size you must first click on “Page Layout”, then “Size” and finally click on the last option, “More Paper Sizes”. A new box will pop up where you can manually change the size of the paper to Width: 6 (inches) and Height: 9 (inches).

Step Two: Get an ISBN Number & create a Copyright page
Logged into the Createspace page you need to fill in the first two pages so that you can get an ISBN number, which you will then copy onto one of the first pages on your book. This is what it looked like for my latest book:

Once you have the ISBN number, you need to create the Copyright page. I usually leave the first printed page blank and then place the Copyright page on the second page of the book. Book Design Made Simple has a good explanation of exactly what you want to include on a Copyright page.

Step Three: Thank those who have reviewed your manuscript

Do not forget this part! I have a native speaker read and comment on everything that I write. Even if you are a native speaker, have someone from a different region read your manuscript. It is easy to find collaborators; just ask on one of the CI Facebook groups. It is always appreciated to send that person free copies of your book once published.

Step Four: Upload the interior manuscript

I recommend that you save your word doc as a .PDF before uploading it. Images and fonts sometimes jump around when it is uploaded as a .docx but in any case you will have the opportunity to preview your files.

Here is an screen shot of what the manuscript preview looks like. As you can see, it automatically flagged one of my images that was slightly placed outside of one of the margins. The previewer is pretty cool; you can flip through your book and get a sense of what it will really look like.

Step Five: A few things to consider adding to your manuscript

As you can see, I like to embed cartoons into my books to help scaffold the reading. Since I do not know the students who will be reading the book, I also like to provide footnotes on any vocabulary or expressions that are not high-frequency. I also like to include a word cloud of the words that appear in each chapter that teachers can use either as an aid in class discussions or to scaffold student retells.

I am also particular about the glossary. Most students are not going to use the glossary (especially if you have footnotes), but those that do use it want to quickly find the word and return to the story. For that reason I go out of my way to add EVERY word, conjugated verbs and obvious cognates included, and also include idiomatic phrases that may be hard for some students to put together. The glossary is without doubt the most annoying part of the book to put together, but if done well it will help readers enjoy the book. I always assume that a student glancing back at the glossary is a struggling reader, so I try to include as much support as possible.

Step Six: Create a cover

The front and back cover is one simple image that wraps around:

You can create the image using a program as simple as Windows Paint (which is what I do). The exact size of the binding (and therefore the image) depends upon the number of pages. Createspace has instructions so that you create the perfect sized cover.

Step Seven: Order a proof copy and approve for printing

I strongly recommend that you order a physical print copy before placing your book on Amazon. It will cost around $2.15. The Amazon page for your book will normally be created within hours of your approval.

Step Eight: Tell us that you have published a book!

I will happily advertise your book on CI-Reading, a blog for indie authors of CI novels. Just contact me with your book information. This is a free service.

I also recommend that you get a blog and post information about your book. It is most effective to post the first two chapters of your novel so that readers can preview your writing style. Here are the first two chapters of my latest novel, in Portuguese.

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Small change, big impact

I am getting great feedback from workshop participants who adopt this tiny tweak.

When you end class with a Write & Discuss activity (which I almost always do), stand in front and physically write on the board rather than projecting the writing from a computer. I know… it is so much more convenient to be able to press save and keep the word document for next class.

However, this is the point in class in which students have received so much input that you can confidently elicit unplanned responses from them. When you are standing in front, you make eye contact. You write one word to start the summary and you scan the class for the next word from a student ready to play the game. W & D is not simply a summarizing activity; a good W & D bounces from student voice to student voice with the teacher merely guiding the written output so that it is correct. A truly great W & D flows in a direction that the teacher may not have anticipated, yet does summarize the conversation that took place in class that day.

From the back or side with the lights dimmed to better see the projected image, a teacher squinting at the keyboard (and eager to sum up the class before the bell rings) will naturally take control of the flow of the text. Students become passive observers of the summary. There is nothing wrong with letting students just read the summary as you create it, but I think it is generally more effective to encourage their natural creativity and playfulness with the language. Not all students are going to speak up, and that is okay. However, I suspect that this more playful approach to W & D helps not only those students who are eager to speak in class, but also scaffolds the writing process for those quiet students who have not begun to produce effortless fluency writes.

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La familia de Federico Rico – Super EASY read

Click on picture to go to the author´s website
Have you noticed how awesomely easy to read are the novels by Craig Klein Dexemple? I have not read this one yet, but in my mind this author is trustworthy to promote without having read. In addition, this book has over 200 illustrations and the author’s students report that it is among the easiest to read novels in his classroom library. Hey, level 3 students LOVE easy to read novels. Follow this link to take a closer look at the novel on Craig´s website.

Just to be clear: book recommendations on my site are not compensated. These are books that I think will help language teachers, that is it.

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Bryan Kandel´s new novel, Los Sobrevivientes

A new independently published novel for level 3 and above
Last year I was offered an opportunity to test out a draft of Bryan Kandel´s new novel in my level 3 classes. I presented it to my students as a choice reading option for the end of the year. Among the students who chose to read Los Sobrevivientes, they were really into it! The novel is a gripping action story based on the true story of a plane full of Uruguayan rugby players which crashed in the Andes on its way to Santiago de Chile. Presumed dead, two men decide that they must hike their way out– without mountain climbing supplies, food, or even a clear idea of where exactly they were.

This book appeals to intermediate and advanced readers who are looking for a good action story full of courageous moments, tough decisions and ultimately an inspiring message. Great reading for heritage learners as well. Click here to check out the book trailer and additional teaching resources that Bryan has posted on his website.

To be clear: I never receive compensation for recommending books. That is obvious I hope, but I just wanted to throw that out there! -Mike Peto

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My Perfect Year live demo — Nov 4 — Zebulon, North Carolina with Mike Peto & Brett Chonko

Saturday, November 4th from 9am to 5pm. $25, reservation required.

Mike Peto
Brett Chonko
Step into our classroom for a day and we will demo our favorite no-fuss CI activities that make for a perfect year. Whether you are new to CI or an experienced practitioner, you are bound to find something new in this whirlwind “year packed into one day” extravaganza. For NC educators: we are hoping to offer 1 CEU for attendance… we will keep you posted!

Please bring your own brown bag lunch.

There are many AirBnB rentals available in the Raleigh area: join our Facebook group to connect with other educators who plan to attend.

8:30 – 9:00 Doors open, coffee and bagels available
9:00 – 9:20 No-stress daily rituals to start class & Easy CI activities to start the year
9:20 – 9:40 student interviews on day 1
9:40 – 10:00 Use of wall space
10:00 – 10:40 The beauty of One Word Images
10:40 – 10:50 short break
10:50 – 11:20 Write & Discuss: the underappreciated foundation of fast acquisition

Recycle those class-created texts into cartoons & easy readings for FVR

11:20 – 12:00 Moving from static images to narrative vignettes
12:30 – 1:00 My comprehensible approach to authentic music in the classroom
1:00 – 2:00 Light targeting with my personal library of stories
2:00 – 2:10 short break
2:10 – 2:40 Essential movie talk skills
2:40 – 3:20 Telenovelas for low and advanced classes
3:20 – 4:30 Book talks & other elements of a strong reading program

– Why independent reading is my preferred approach to reading in class
– How I read whole class novels without killing the experience

4:30 – 4:45 My no frills approach to assessment
4:45 – 5:00 A typical day, a typical week, a typical month
Schedule may vary due to needs of participants

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Join our project to improve classes for heritage learners!

In June of 2016 a group of CI teachers started a collaborative project. We believed that Spanish teachers are generally not well-trained to teach to the needs of heritage learners. We felt that much of the published material written by academics or textbook companies was not helping our students. Distressingly we have heard about departments who farm out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. Other departments urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. Reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession.

We decided to write essays, from the perspective of experienced classroom teachers, describing each facet of our classes. Our hope was to gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that our colleagues would confidently approach their courses with joy. Furthermore, we write as CI teachers who appreciate that the grammar and extensive spelling lessons from the textbooks that infuriate and frustrate our students are rarely appropriate. Too many heritage learners were learning the wrong lesson: that they could never master high-prestige dialects of Spanish, that their own experiences with the language were useless and that the cultural heritage of their ancestors was forever lost.

Our book, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, was published in October 2016 and from the profits we have since donated over 100 reading books to the classroom libraries of teachers. We also have formed a Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, with nearly 400 members.

It is now time to consider putting together a 2nd edition of our book. Working together, so many of us have moved forward and now have a lot more to say. If you are having success teaching a course for heritage learners of Spanish, please consider writing an essay for our next edition.

Currently we have a lengthy description of my reading program and an outline of how I have organized the rest of the class period. There are lots more that can be written about reading programs. If you incorporate reading conferences or have adapted a Lucy Calkins´s style reading workshop, a description of your approach would be great. I plan on writing a new essay about including manga in the classroom library. You could write about comparing typical writing samples before a reading program and several months later… hopefully you already have writing samples saved from the beginning of the year! Perhaps you want to describe a literacy initiative that extends beyond the classroom—bringing kids to the local library and tracking how many continue to use the library afterwards & what you can do to bring those numbers up or even tracking how many books are checked out of your classroom library and what you do to increase that number. There is so much to say about reading; write to me if you have an angle to explore.

I also wrote an essay about my struggle with counselors who would not cooperate in properly placing students. Essays from schools in which the placement system is not dysfunctional would be welcome, or modifications that you have made that work. Every school system is different; recording a diversity of approaches may help teachers problem solve in their own unique situation.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish. How do you create a compelling language experience for students who have been marginalized and taught that school is anything but compelling? Any of these topics could spawn multiple essays based on your classroom experiences.

I have often thought that the final essay of the collection, Beyond the Classroom by Barbara A. Davis, could inspire a larger examination of how school institutions and Anglo cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers. I am sure some of us have observed how our school cultures can simultaneously absorb and repel heritage learners… perhaps ELA teachers may have a sharper focus on this topic.

We also have no essays about school-home interaction. Are there teachers who create community through activities organized through La Sociedad honoraria hispánica, for example? How does that impact enrollment?

There are so many other topics that touch upon the life of a heritage learner of Spanish. If you have a particular insight, please share.

We also welcome thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners.

I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. If you would like to join our group, please feel free to email your idea for an essay to mikepeto AT gmail DOT com with the phrase “Practical Advice” in the topic.


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New books for FRENCH & SPANISH teachers!

Scroll down to the bottom for a bargain

For French teachers: I am thrilled that a summer of collaboration with a trio of smart French teachers has finally given birth to the newest CI-friendly novel in French for our lower-level students. Superhamburgers is a novel that appeals to adolescents because it was written with one of my level 1 classes in 2013. The plot revolves around two students who are lab partners in an AP Chemistry class. Rodney had no idea that the consequences of his actions would reach so far. It started as a bad joke — never washing his hands at the restaurant where he worked after school so that he would have a quiet place to study for his AP classes. By the end of the next day, however, as he was being hunted by a ruthless drug lord, Rodney realized that it had all spiraled horribly out of control. If only he had washed his hands!

The Spanish edition has received rave reviews from teachers and students alike:

Embedded within the novel is a set of 23 illustrations. Followers of my blog have seen my growing obsession with comprehensible cartoons in the classroom. In the novel I have inserted 5 full page comics to help students visualize the developing plot of the novel. At the end of each chapter there is a 2 page word cloud designed as a crutch to help you and your students discuss the chapter in a structured, comprehensible manner. We also have a new Facebook group dedicated to sharing resources for teaching this novel. If you would like to read the first two chapters before committing, you can download them by clicking on this link.

For Spanish teachers: I have published a 2nd edition of Superburguesas with all of the new illustrations (in Spanish, of course) and even the word clouds. This is a gorgeous update and I think it really does help guide students comprehend the novel. Or rather, the illustrations often confirm that they are comprehending the novel.

For both Spanish and French teachers: The prequel to Superburgers, titled Normal hamburgers, is an entire graphic novel designed to be read in level 1, and enjoyed in levels 2, 3, and 4! The graphic novel is already well on its way and will be available this coming December.

The two new editions of Superhamburgers on Amazon, French and Spanish, are currently available for $6.49. I am no longer publishing the first edition, so any book offered at another price is a first edition used copy without the new illustrations and word clouds. However if you avoid Amazon altogether and order groups of five directly through this website you can get a 15% discount. Just click on the “Shop” link at the top of the page. This is a great option for anyone considering buying a full class set!

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Struggling to hold students accountable for reading?

Addressing the toxic culture of non-reading

I have a well-developed classroom library and I emphasize student-selected reading in my classes at all levels, from level 1 through to the heritage learner classes that I teach. I consider myself to be a “krashenista who lives in the real world“, that is, an educator who takes Krashen’s hypothesis’ seriously but also recognizes the role of the classroom teacher to massage those insights about second language acquisition so that they work in our reality. To be clear, Krashen isn’t a brainstem floating in another dimension; his ideas have already been extensively class-tested and you can follow this link to read a summary of the research-based suggestions for setting up a classroom reading program. What I am concerned with here, however, is what I think most teachers seeking to build an independent reading program are struggling with: how to transition students from a punitive compliance approach to reading that is common in many classrooms so that they embrace a pleasure-based approach advocated by Krashen in our classrooms?

A student who has learned to play the game in all of their other classes has been trained to approach reading as a task to undermine. Teachers respond by finding ways to ensure reading compliance such as quizzes, reading guides, writing assignments and random (humiliating) in-class comprehension questions. Our students are immersed in a punitive reading culture that rouses their counterwill; is it any wonder that they huddle before class discussing the reading with the one kid who actually did it, that they send text messages to students in other sections about “surprise quizzes”, that they copy answers to reading guides in the hallways during morning break and that they despise the astute teachers who manage to “play the game well”? Undermining the teacher’s attempts to enforce reading compliance is the game and, I think, one of the reasons adolescents report that they hate reading. The so-called good students may read due to an external motivator (grades, desire to impress an adult), but research on external motivators indicates that external motivators decrease internal motivation. That is to say, reading compliance assignments are unlikely to motivate compliant or non-compliant students to become lifelong readers.

By setting up a pleasure reading program, we krashenistas are attempting to step outside of this game, coaxing students to abandon what is truly a non-reading culture and nudging them to discover a home-run book… the kind of reading experience that is so satisfying that it opens a new world. How naive we must seem to those calculating students who have spent their lives perfecting the game! How silly we must seem! How easy to fool!

When I start my pleasure reading program, I very briefly describe in L1 why we are spending 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the class on independent reading (I often use the quotes from the back of my good reading book marks, a free download). I have several browsing strategies to get multiple books in their hands in the first few days before they commit to any book. Students are allowed to change books until they find one that “is not too bad”, they are always allowed to abandon a book, and they are never quizzed on their independent reading. I demand a silent room while we read, and then I sit with them and read. Afterwards we sometimes spend a brief moment talking about our books in L1 in small groups (this is both a documented way to add pleasure to the reading process as well as a browsing strategy) and I often do comprehensible L2 book talks describing a favorite scene from books in the classroom library (another browsing strategy).

Krashen states that studies have shown that very few students are merely staring into space with glazed eyes during reading period, yet for us classroom teachers it is a subject of heated discussion. Are they really reading? What can we do to make sure? That kid certainly is not reading. The handful who I know are not reading define the entire class in my mind, and it frustrates me. My heritage learners in particular, the ones who gain most from easy pleasure reading, seem to be among the best at faking it unless they think there is going to be real accountability. I need to perfect this bridge between our current reality of the game and that wonderful future when each student has discovered a home-run book. My role as a teacher is to connect students with a home-run book so that they become readers. My instincts and my training as a teacher, however, constantly intrude and push me towards reading compliance measures. I am aware of what is happening in my classroom… I am actually pretty good at the game. But winning the game is counter-productive; I need to short-circuit the logic of the game.

This is what I would like to propose here: (1) teaching a student to read is different from (2) leading a student to love reading. (1) Developing reading skills is different from (2) developing a love of reading. Educators must be very clear that (1) does not lead to (2). The first can be done through brute force such as assigning reading journals, essays, comprehension quizzes, “minimally intrusive” post-reading paragraphs, graphic organizers, rubrics designed to encourage students to reflect on either the reading or the act of reading, assigned discussions in pairs after reading or assigned book talks. The second, however, can only be accomplished through the path of pleasure. If a post-reading discussion is pleasurable, if writing a reaction to a book is pleasurable (for instance, doing so voluntarily on or reading about other students reactions to the reading is pleasurable, then the activity will contribute to the greater goal of developing love of reading. If it is not pleasurable, then it plays into the dynamic of the game.

How, then, can we successfully confront the toxic culture of non-reading which is expressed by the game? I have an idea, and this once again comes straight from a conference talk given by Krashen. At NTPRS 2015 Dr. K spoke about the process of becoming a reader and he observed that, before pleasure reading, almost all lifelong readers were read to. I am not talking about being forced to read aloud in class or having the teacher read a boring text aloud. I am talking about an essential kindergarten reading activity that is fun and should not have been dropped neither in middle school nor even in high school. That is to say, readers tend to have had parents or older siblings who read pleasure reading texts to them. Being read to is not the only step to transform a person into a reader (they will then need access to highly-compelling reading), but most readers report that they were once read to. I suspect that most of our students have not had enough experience being read to in pleasurable, read-aloud settings. Here is the key idea in this entire essay: I wonder what would happen if teachers rewired their brains so that, when we witness a non-compliant student during silent reading period, we reacted differently. Rather than reach for a reading compliance strategy, what if we were to think to ourselves, “I have got to do more read-alouds”? I am suggesting that not only would more pleasurable read-alouds move the student further down the road towards becoming a reader, but we would also short-circuit the logic of the game. In the short run I will sit next to that student, engage in a conversation about reading, try to find a better book for him, try to make a connection during a read-aloud, but what I will not do is allow my frustration to perpetuate the dynamic of the game. That is a win/win for all of my students, especially the ones that are actually finding good books and are beginning to think that maybe this class is different…

Jen Schongalla told me about one of her nephews who described the FVR program in his elementary school. He said to her:

All the free reading books were labeled with colored stickers according to the level. I would pick a book, open it at my desk and just sit and think. I’d look around to see what level everyone was on, pick books that were 1-2 levels higher and just sit there. I never read during free reading until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. Then I was hooked and read the whole series. Around 5th grade they evaluated our reading level and I was told I was reading at a college level.

What strikes me about his recollection is what we can infer to be in the background: a patient teacher who was working hard to connect a non-compliant kid with his home run book.

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Graphic novels & Japanese manga translated into Spanish

At the end of this post is a list of books that I recommend as well as a list of books that I am still trying to figure out how to sell to my students and, lastly, the black list of books that I wish I had never bought.

Over the past two years I have been expanding the graphic novel and manga section of my classroom library. You might be surprised at how many of your “non-reading” students are otakus, secretly obsessed with Japanese anime and manga. A few copies of Naruto translated into Spanish may release a flood of nostalgia and, of course, positive memories of when reading was fun.

One big discovery I made this year was the series Orange (pictured above) by Ichigo Takano. Teach your kids that manga is read from right to left, starting from what western readers would consider to be the last page of the book. Therefore in the caption above the reader would first see the boy with tears in his eyes, then read “muchas gracias” followed by “Suwa, ¿estás llorando?”, finishing with “¡Claro que no! Es la alergia.”

A timid heritage learner of Spanish asked to keep my copy of the series Orange so that she could re-read it over the summer. That is what I call a reading home run! It tells the story of a girl who receives letters from herself written from the future, which instruct her to save one of her friends. “He will disappear if you do nothing“, warns one of the letters. In my classes this series has only gained traction among heritage learners, so if you do not have a heritage learner population you might want to hold back on buying this series.

I have written earlier about the wonderful graphic novel ¡Sonríe! by Raina Telgemeier as well as El perro enamorado de las estrellas by Takashi Murakami. Both can be read by intermediate students of Spanish with some “tolerance of noise”. That tolerance is an important point, usually students exhibit a tolerance for noise when they have a high interest in the reading material. These are not whole group novels, although I do occasionally read parts of these novels with the whole class as a browsing strategy. Some students will want to stay with TPRS novels that are closer to 100% comprehensible, but some will not perk up and enjoy reading until they come across something like a manga. Likewise I had a student, an avowed non-reader, who did nothing but fake read until he saw a copy of Art Speigelman´s Maus in the reserved book shelf behind my desk. I would have never guessed that an interest in the Holocaust would turn him onto reading in Spanish.

En la vida real is a graphic novel (ie not Japanese manga) that attracted a small, very specific following in my class. It tells the story of a young American girl who discovers self-confidence through a persona in an online multi-player game. Valued for her skill as a gamer, she disdains players who purchase the online items which she is proud to earn. Things get complicated when she and her online friends decide to attack the online personas of players who spend their game-time harvesting, only to discover that the “harvesters” are exploited children working in the 21st century version of third-world sweatshops.

Los dioses mienten is about a boy who discovers that one of his classmates is an orphan. In fact, nobody knows that her grandfather passed away soon after her father abandoned them, and she has been fending for herself ever since waiting for her father to return. I cannot remember if there were parts to white out; whenever I read a new manga I often have a black marker and a white-out pen to apply to any scene that shows underwear. I remember this manga as a sweet little tale of childhood innocence.

I am not going to pretend that the Oshinbo series does not address a specialized audience, but if you have an interest in Japanese cuisine then you should get it just for your own reading during FVR time! These books are considered “gastronomic manga”; they do have a plot (father and son gourmets who cannot stand each other due to their competing sense of aesthetics), but it is a thinly veiled excuse to be fascinated by the complexity of Japanese cuisine. Occasionally there is a show down between father and son, which does not necessarily mean that either gets into the kitchen and cooks. The competition is to see who has the best palate (sense of taste). It is absurd, entertaining and enlightening.

El Diario gatuno de Jinju Ito is one of the rare books by this author of horror manga that I can recommend for class use. Students who are familiar with the genre will recognize his style, but fortunately in this book the anxiety for which the author is known stays within bounds. It is something of a cute book about a man who hates cats. I have picture talked a page to help develop student interest in the book.

Adding manga and graphic novels to an FVR library is not the cure for all students, but if you take the time to properly develop interest in this new section it will help some of your students actually enjoy independent reading time. That is a big accomplishment because it is enjoyment of reading, not just reading, that makes students into life-long readers.

Books that I enthusiastically recommend:
Orange (books 1-5) – Ichigo Takano
¡Sonríe! – Raina Telgemeier
En la vida real – Cory Doctorow
María y yo – Miguel Gallardo
Coraline, novela gráfica – Neil Gaiman
Desaparecido (books 1-6) – Kei Sanbe
Los dioses mienten (preview?) – Kaori Ozaki
El diario gatuno de Junji Ito – Junji Ito
Oshinbo a la carte (books 1-7) – Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki Japanese cuisine with a plot
Persépolis integral – Marjane Satrapi (PREVIEW!!!)
Maus – Art Spiegelman (PREVIEW!!!)
Arrugas – Paco roca
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle
Naruto (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Masashi Kishimoto
Dragon Ball (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Akira Toriyama

Books I like that have yet to find an audience:
A Silent Voice – Yoshitoki Oima
Food Wars – Yuto Tsukuda (read with a white-out marker!)
Guía del mal padre – Guy Delisle
El Gourmet solitario – Jiro Taniguchi
Cruzando el bosque – Emily Carroll
El rastreador – Juro Taniguchi
Aventuras de la mano negra – Hans Jurgen Press
Hansel y Gretel – Donald Lemke
Jack y los frijoles mágicos – Blake Hoena
La Bella y la Bestia – Michael Dahl
Memorias de Idhun (graphic novels 1-12) – Laura Gallego García (several students enjoyed this series, but it is adapted from the novels in a confusing, disjointed manner).

Mistakes: books I have bought that never made it into my classroom library:
Los gritos del pasado (sexual violence)
Fantasmas – Raina Telgemeier (read this review)
Doble sentido – Niklas Asker (sexuality)
Futbolín (sexuality)
El guardián invisible – la novela gráfica – Dolores Redondo (sexual violence)
Traición, la torre oscura 3 – Stephen King (made it but rarely read due to tiny font)
Fútbol, la novela gráfica – Santiago García (sexuality)
Vagabond – Takehiko Inoue (sexual violence)
Voces en la oscuridad – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Hotel – Boichi (sexuality)
Tomei O.C. – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Mirai Nikki – Sakae Esuno (extreme violence)
Tungsteno – Marcello Quintanilha (sexuality)
Yo, asesino – Keke Altarriba (sexual violence)
V de Vendetta – Alan Moore (sexuality)

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How to add 15 new beginner level texts to your classroom library EVERY WEEK

“Recreational reading is the most powerful tool we have in language education”
-Stephen Krashen, presentation at CCFLT, February 2017

These are the readings we need most for our classes, the easy easy readings that low level readers can read independently. Almost impossible to find. This is how you do it:

Like the idea? Click here to download the template for the pamphlet cartoon stories.

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Watching other teachers in class

Bring more CI voices into your classroom

I love watching other teachers teach. An absolutely-no-prep end-of-the-year activity that I enjoy is finding videos of other teachers and spending ten minutes watching and commenting on it with my students. I was telling my students, “es como el Matrix donde podemos entrar en (mimic opening a door) otra realidad“. One corrected me, saying, “actually Mr Peto it is more like Inception where 20 seconds of their time stretches into 10 minutes in our world”. I love how everyone gets a little punchy in the last month of school.

It all started one day with a video of Eric Herman doing a movie talk of a Volkswagen commercial. Unfortunately I cannot find the clip, but we got hung up on a portion in which Eric is asking one of his students if she has pets and she says no, so he starts listing the pets that she might want but does not have. I found this hilarious and, since only a few of my students agreed, I decided to pull one up to act out the ludicrous scene with dramatic relish.

Thus was born a segment that I call, “¡¿Qué está pasando en otras clases?!“.

Click on photo to see Alina’s video
At the beginning of the year my students are assigned seats which are placed within taped boxes, but by the end of the year kids are grabbing pillows and sprawling out on the floor. As long as they are paying attention, they own the classroom. So I thought it would be fun to watch one of Alina Filipescu’s videos that highlight her amazing classroom management skills. It took us seven minutes to watch about 30 seconds of video as I described the various gestos that her students were making, all in unison. The interesting thing for me was that I do not normally ask students to do gestures… okay, I never ask for gestures. Bringing Alina in through video taught my class the entonces gesture. Nice!

Click on photo to see the video of Jason
A few days later I pulled up a clip of Jason Fritze teaching younger kids using TPR. This was fun because not only did my students have to adjust to hearing a different voice, but they had to react quickly to the video. I told my students, “es un baile moderno…un baile supermoderno… y el coreógrafo es el señor Fritze… tenemos que hacerlo perfectamente“. Half of my late-May-fried-teaching-brain was freed up as I sat in the back with my students and simply obeyed his instructions, raising my hand whenever I observed students off-track. One of my students sitting at the computer rewound the video (at times cruelly to the beginning) so that we could perfect our performance.

Click on the photo to visit Pablo’s Youtube channel

A few days later we watched a video made by Pablo Pankun Román on his youtube channel “Dreaming Spanish”. This is a great end of the year activity because it moves students in the direction of finding their own comprehensible input. It is very much scaffolded by a native speaker, but it was almost entirely comprehensible to my students.

Cameron Taylor
I have also released several videos of myself doing story listening lessons. Last January on Tea with BVP Bill Van Patten suggested that hearing good comprehensible input on video can be as effective as live interaction. Cynthia Hitz wrote a blog post detailing how she uses these videos for substitute lesson plans (which in fact was the reason that I made several of those videos). Ironically, while I was absent, I had lunch with Cameron Taylor in Tokyo, one of the other teachers that Cynthia highlights in her blog post. It is a very small CI world! I definitely recommend that you check out both Cynthia´s blog as well as Cameron´s youtube channel and his blog where he explores teaching Spanish and also his experiences acquiring Japanese.

Here are links to several videos of me telling stories that I have on my vimeo site. There are also more, including longer ones when I am teaching with a class. Click on any of the images and you will be brought to the video:

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Conexiones by Bryce Hedstrom

A collection of short, non-fiction entries that excite a different kind of reader

People sometimes ask me how I keep students from getting bored of my schtick creating class stories day after day. The key, of course, is that I am not doing the same thing every day. On some days we create class stories together, some days I tell a fable, some days we discuss the plot of short video clips or a Spanish language tv show that we are watching in class, and some days we discuss our own personal stories through student interviews. But there is one kind of story that feels so different: non-fiction.

The readings in Bryce´s book excite a different kind of reader: the child who spends hours curled up with a magazine like Ranger Rick, Popular Science or National Geographic. This book rounds out a classroom library by focusing on interesting non-fiction that is comprehensible to novice learners of Spanish. Whether offered as an independent reading selection, read in small groups or part of a whole-class reading activity, these readings are a necessary complement to the fiction that is central to my classes.

I like to do a few of these readings as a whole class activity to hook students on the pleasure of reading non-fiction. Not all students enjoy reading about the animals of Latin America (for example), and that is okay. Then I leave the book out for FVR. Those who long for “something real” will be attracted like magnets to Bryce´s book and, in turn, will be much more attentive during the fiction stories spun in class because they recognize that one part of the class was designed just for them.

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Story Listening Lesson with my Spanish 1 students

A copy of the story, video of my lesson and power point full of student drawn pictures for class review the next day

In early May I told this story to my Spanish 1 students. It is inspired by a classic fable but I added an unexpected twist at the end. Here is a copy of the story as I wrote it before telling it to my students. I think it is good practice to encourage students to read the story later.

I do not choose stories based upon language that I want to introduce in class. For story listening I never hunt for a story that has the imperfect tense or a certain group of target words. I do occasionally teach classic TPRS stories with target structures that I want to nail down, but that is a small part of my teaching routine. Instead I normally search for stories that I think will interest students and then rewrite the story so that it will be comprehensible. There are definitely some words that my students did not know, such as chismosa, pueblo, injusto and entierro. I wrote them on the board as they came up in the story and perhaps circled them very lightly just so that students understood in this one context, this one time. The words menor and mayor also came up, and have shown up in other stories, but I felt like I needed to give a little extra attention to those words.

Finally at the end of the video I tell students watching the video at home to write a 150 word version of this story in Spanish. That was simply for the group of students that had been pulled out of my class for a motivational speaker. That is not how I normally follow up a Story Listening activity. Normally I will have them quickly write about the story in English so that I can glance through the papers and verify their understanding. Today I gave them a paper with only one sentence from the story and had them illustrate that one sentence. At the end of the week we will revisit this story with a power point full of their illustrations (which I will insert here when it is done). I will retell the story using their pictures, and perhaps I will have them also retell in pairs but I know that what makes them speak fluently is not the speaking practice… it is the multiple comprehensible exposures to hearing and reading the fable.

Added the next day:

The next day we did a quick retell and I then gave students five minutes to write as quickly as possible everything they could remember. Here are three random writing samples. Since many of the grades that I record are simply based on completion it is meaningless to say whether these students are “A” or “C” students. What I can say is that they are rarely absent, so this is what happens when they come to class:

Click here to watch the video of the story listening part of the lesson (which is about 15 minutes long):

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This looks like such fun, I cannot wait to add it to my FVR library!

Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in Carlos’ life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand.

Carlos invites you to come along this adventure into La clase de confesiones….todos tienen una confesión (even the teacher!) Word count 3,000, most of which are cognates in addition to vocabulary totally appropriate for Spanish level 1. Glossary included!

The author gets the most royalties if you purchase it directly through createspace.

However, you can purchase through Amazon.

Download Free Teacher’s Manual on– La clase de confesiones.

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there is a special doorway into a child’s world

“The best way I have found of getting to a place where everyone knows and approves of each other in a classroom, to form a community in an authentic sense, is by sharing images created by the students to use as a basis for stories. That’s the glue.” – Ben Slavic

Ben & Tina´s book, A Natural Approach to Stories , has just become available today on Teacher´s Discovery. I have so much affection for this approach to stories that it is hard for me to single out a few bullet points as to why you should use this book as your guide to CI. The approach described in this book is substantial enough to entirely replace my previous (already effective) CI curriculum. After a year of Ben´s approach my students are performing better, and happier, than ever before. And it is not just my experience: I have recently learned that two teachers in my CI meet-up group (which focuses on Ben´s approach) have earned the Teacher of the Year award at their respective schools. Take a look at Cameron Taylor´s blog to read about his experiences with the power of stories rooted in One Word Images and Invisibles.

As I leave my district in California behind this June, I will be sure to leave a hard copy of A Natural Approach to Stories, placing it in a discreet place in the hopes that the teacher who replaces me will discover it.

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The growing FVR cartoon library

At this point we have over 20 submissions in our collaborative, downloadable FVR cartoon library.

A few of the cartoons have been fully illustrated in color and are ready to be laminated or added to a cartoon binder for easy reading by students during their free reading part of the class.

Some of the cartoons have been illustrated with pencil so that it will not be costly to print out the cartoons. If you have your students illustrate either colored or pencil versions and they turn out well, please send us the best example so that we can offer both colored and black & white versions.

Most of the cartoons also have a non-illustrated version. These are great for substitute plans or a homework assignment where you want to lightly assess student´s reading comprehension. Instead of printing off a class set of one cartoon, please consider printing off 5 or 10 different cartoons and having students illustrate a random cartoon. Send in the best.

I like to emphasize that the act of illustrating is not an efficient use of class time; assign these as substitute plans or occasional homework to supplement the CI students are hearing in class. The real value of the cartoon library will be once we have a full reading library to cater to the needs of the lowest level readers in class so that your FVR program will be strong and effective.

If you would like to join our collaborative effort please read the instructions and submit a class-created cartoon. All languages are welcome.

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Hacking Quizlet to make good reading activities

A reading activity that would impress administrators

On Monday we were chatting about our weekend and a story surged forth about a girl who went to Disneyland with a classmate. Today I had a pair of artists work to create a poster while the rest of the class and I reworked the story into a fantasy-zombie-Disney story. By the end of the class we had a decent story up on Textivate (if you have a Textivate subscription you can search our story in the “Public Resources” section using the keyword Mirabella.

After school I brought in one of my colleagues and we filmed ourselves reading the story with the poster between us. My plan is to play the video retell tomorrow and then follow up with a game of Quizlet Live using a quizlet set that I created from the story.

To make this into an effective reading activity (rather than a vocabulary list) I took the story and split each sentence in half, so that one side logically leads to the next. I uploaded it as a Quizlet vocabulary list so that is looks like this:

Tomorrow when I log into Quizlet Live the students will play on their cell phones, matching the first part of the sentence with the second half. It is a quick 10 minute small group activity that administrators love to see because students are working together in small groups, they are laughing and involved in the activity and it appears to be very student-centered. Of course, I know that real conversations with my students are a much more efficient use of class time. Nonetheless this is a decent 10 minute activity that draws students in, impresses administrators, gives me a short break and then allows me to spend the rest of my class constructing stories… which I think is the best use of class time.

Bonus: I can pull this sequence out again in a couple of weeks on a day when I need a bailout move. This is wonderful review and easily buys me 15 minutes to reconstruct my lesson plans.

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Recipe for a fantastic year

Pre-planned targets, emergent targets, Light-circling, heavy-circling and not targeting at all: they all have their place in a level 1 classroom

A few years ago, when all of my stories had targets, we created a fun class story called Frankie el mentiroso. You can see the original lesson here. Looking at that post helps me see how far I have come in these past years. This is a story that I created with a Spanish 3 class. This year, about seven months into Spanish 1, my students are just sitting back and enjoying hearing this story.

Back in those days I targeted obsessively, mistakenly believing that students acquire what I target and mostly do not acquire what I do not target. I must have been confused if I had read Stephen Krashen´s suggestion that most of what we acquire is almost certainly non-targeted input. I was too close to the grammar syllabus that I was in the process of rejecting to be able to recognize that a vocabulary syllabus is just as absurd.

My experiences this year working mostly with emergent targets has flipped everything on its head. While before I would carefully lay a foundation of essential structures, this year working mostly with One Word Images (OWIs) throughout the first semester has ironically led to a stronger foundation due to incredible student interest generated by the process. Here is my recipe for an awesome year:

(1) I started the year with student interviews and quickly getting students familiar with the third person of the Super 7 verbs. I purposely chose interview questions that featured these highest of high-frequency verbs. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually used this power point with the interview questions in both Spanish (large letters) and English (small letters). During August kids would just turn around and read the question I asked… until they did not need to. It happened naturally while we were busy paying attention to their answers.

(2) Early in the semester I taught my students the process of creating OWIs. We made them twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. These might take 20 minutes each time; the rest of the time was used on interviews (one student could easily take another 20 minutes) and other CI activities. OWIs are definitely the WOW! activity that I incorporated into my teaching this year, and I am not the only one enamored with this powerful technique. Take a look at one of Cameron Taylor´s blog posts about using OWIs with his daughter. Important: we ended each class with a short Write & Discuss activity to summarize what happened in class that day and then added that writing to an FVR binder.

(3) Very quickly kids wanted to start expanding their OWIs into stories, which we did on Tuesdays and Fridays. Both OWIs and the narrative vignettes that emerged on the following day depended heavily on the Super 7 verbs, but there was also a lot of emergent structures. When, for example, students wanted a fountain from which blue chocolate flows, I needed to slowly circle the new information (una fuente de que salía chocolate azul… notice how I carefully simplified the language). Here you can see a story they made in early September (a month into the school year) about that fountain; if this had been a pre-planned class story the story would have been a hopeless failure. Look at how complicated it is! But this OWI turned class story was THEIR story unlike any TPRS story I have ever worked with before. It is fascinating how powerful the OWI technique is.

(4) By mid-October I was occasionally sprinkling in a pre-planned target structure. Mostly this was by “asking” one of the stories that I have used before. In the past I prefaced these targeted lessons with a lot of PQA; this year I would just work with the main text in one single class period. If the lesson required more than one period then I put it off and waited until later, when we could finish the targeted lesson in one period. Here is an example of a “one class” targeted story that we did to focus on the word ningún. The first power point took most of one whole class. We then read the additional story “Panqueques” about two weeks later, and that was also completed in one class period.

(5) But I was also telling completely non-targeted stories via the Story Listening technique, as you can see in this lesson.

(6) We also started watching El Internado in January using an emergent approach. No way I am going to pre-teach all of those structures!! Instead I look at each scene and ask myself, “What do the characters want?” That question is enough to simplify the tv show to make it comprehensible to my students… no need to doddle translating all of that dialogue!!

(7) A tremendous amount of reading is essential, starting in the first semester with class-created texts being added to the FVR binders every day. By September I was doing short, simple book talks (mostly on Wednesdays) about the books in my FVR library that they would eventually start reading independently. By January we started FVR for the first 5-10 minutes of class… students who do not feel confident reading from the TPRS books pick up the FVR binders that we created during first semester and reread texts that we created together.

Watch the video below and look at how easily students are interacting with a story that I originally created for a level three class. As I watch this, I can recognize that there is no such thing as “hard structures”. After telling them the story in a story listening style presentation, students read a copy of the story on their own. Afterwards I quickly read the story aloud, clarifying any remaining doubts. By slowly exposing them to (a) a lot of non-targeted/emergent-targeted input as well as (b) a well-curated foundation of targeted high frequency input, my students are all superstars.

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The FREE online FVR Cartoon library

In my opinion, this has lots of potential.

Lots of people continue to ask me about the free downloadable FVR start-up kit that I created back in 2014. I posted two short novels that my classes had co-written, formatted so that anyone could print and add them to their own class library. The project did not attract the collaboration that I had hoped – who has time to co-write entire novels with their classes?! I temporarily closed the website until I could create an easier collaborative project from which busy teachers could realistically benefit. Today I would like to invite you to imagine again the possibilities of this wonderful, much reduced but much more realistic project.

(A) Why FVR?

Instead of novels we are focused on two page cartoon versions of class-created stories. If you are imagining stories with your classes, come take advantage of the creativity of other classrooms around the world and stock up your FVR library!

I predict that this will be great for new teachers lacking resources. This will be great for experienced teachers who are looking for comprehensible, independent reading for their level 1 classes. This will be great for teachers of lesser taught languages who do not have many choices to stock their FVR library. When this really takes off the online FVR library will be a wormhole into classrooms that do not yet appreciate the effectiveness of storytelling methods.

Currently there are already about a dozen cartoons available. To get access to our growing collection, I merely ask that you ask an original story with your classes, write it down with them and then simplify it further to fit onto one of our blank cartoon templates that we provide. You do not even have to illustrate it (although inside the cartoon index we provide both non-illustrated and illustrated versions—the non-illustrated versions are great for substitute plans).

See the details at:


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hello all you beautiful teachers

is-it-okay-to-shareSo many generous teachers post free materials online that it is not always clear what is free to share, or what has been lifted, photocopied and is an illegal copy. Let us be clear on one thing: sharing legally shareable resources is good practice. For years whenever I published a lesson online I thought to myself, “this is free, I don´t need to claim ownership over a free resource”. Recently, however, several people have contacted me regarding unattributed resources that they thought may have been originally mine (they were not). After reading the many comments on Martina Bex´s recent post about her unending struggle against copyright violators it became clear to me that there are many teachers who really do not want to violate copyright.

ccFor those of us who share: let´s do a very small thing to help clarify what is shareable and what is not. Let´s use the system of Creative Commons to indicate that our works are shareable, can be copied, redistributed, and altered. Or not, but let us be super clear by placing an appropriate creative commons license on the bottom of any resource we share. It is easy (and free). All you have to do is go to the Creative Commons website and decide what level of sharing is appropriate for your work. On the bottom of the page include a notice to indicate the copyright status.

Here is an example for this blog post:

“hello all you beautiful teachers” by Mike Peto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. You are free to adapt and share for non-commercial purposes as long as you keep this notice. See copyright details here:

For a downloadable resource I plan on scaling down the font to size 10 and placing it in a text box at the bottom of the page.

The following step, of course, is to start asking about authorship whenever we receive an unattributed resource. This is not to make people feel bad about passing things on, but to create a professional culture in which piracy does not pass unnoticed through our professional groups.

We are already a generous group; if you are releasing free material then let´s go a tiny step further to protect our colleagues who truly need our help.